What does it mean to be “home?”
I’ve written on the subject for myself before, and have yet to come to a definitive conclusion. Sometimes, the studio, the home of creation or practice, feels like home. Sometimes, it is that first place we felt safe as a child. Sometimes, it is with loved ones and family, sometimes alone on a trail in the woods. Sometimes a classroom, sometimes an apartment…sometimes, it is glaringly, horribly absent from all of these.
Traditional American culture operates under the assumption that home is a fixed and stable external place to which one can return for an indefinite amount of time and gain relaxation and rejuvenation. It is constant and unchanging.
And yet, the physical places we call home shift constantly – in the last five years alone, I have called more than eight places “home” – whether for that moment, in reference to a past experience, in anticipation, or even simultaneously. All of these places were truly home, and all of them sometimes just were not where I was supposed to be; how then, can “home” be a single place?
What if “home” is not concrete? What if it is instead a series of fleeting moments, an ephemeral concept whose true constancy is our ability to perceive and exist within it? To find it within ourselves?
In a practical sense, this is not an implausible interpretation; the Icelandic word, heimr, to which home is etymologically related, means both “world” and “peace.” To feel at home, then, would be to experience our world at peace – to be exactly where we need to be, with what we need, surrounded by those whom we need or who need us. That sensation, that notion, isn’t rooted in a single place, but rather in a personal perception and deep-seated understanding.
During transitional moments, it is easy to lose track of our sense of home, to feel adrift and remote even in familiar places. I stand at a crossroads yet again, on the edge between teacher and student, independent adult and dependent child. I have my own apartment – as Virginia Woolf would want, I have “A Room of [my] Own” – enough money to start out, and the prospect of earning enough to support myself beyond mere necessity. I have stepped from a scrappy world of just-getting-by into a professional world I have known only from a distance. I feel like a pretender; where do I fit in this world? Where are the peaceful moments? When will I recognize myself? How will I know when I am home?
The truth is, it is these times of transition that show me how deeply embedded my home is within my sense of self; in just the last two weeks, home has been: a moment on my morning run looking at a hot air balloon with Mt. Rainier in the background, staring at the sunrise in stopped traffic on the interstate, listening to “Make Them Gold” by CHVRCHES on repeat one morning, sipping coffee in my new apartment, watering the roses at the house I lived in last year… It is in moments, not places, in which notice I am home. Sure, these come with more regularity in the places with which I am more familiar, but that is likely because I am more able to recognize them – I am not so busy working to figure out my role and place that I lose track of the moments of home, those flashes of internal clarity when I know I am enough.
In a few short days, I will greet my students for the first time as their teacher. Many will be starting the year in a new building, some may be in a new town, state, or even country, and all will be adapting to a new population of students, a new set of teachers and expectations, a new set of learning outcomes to which they will need to rise, new technology, new friends…transitions will be in no short supply – and school may be the most stable piece of the world for more than several. As I find my own place, how can I lead my students to the same? How can we use these transitions as ways to, together, find home, to recognize ourselves inside the unfamiliar?
As the Socratic sentence stem begins, there is not one answer to this question; as with all learning, it will be the process and the practice that will teach the most. One of our building’s goals for the year is that each student be able to experience joy each day. Perhaps I’ll start there and, through finding joy, end up at home.